Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Interesting Video On The Science Of Willpower

Featuring Stanford professor Dr. Kelly McGonigal, who teaches a course on this at Stanford and wrote a book about it.

You'll probably want to skip the first 12 minutes, but it's definitely worth watching.

Edit: turns out it's actually a class at Stanford's continuing education program, rather than undergrad or postgrad, per se, but it's still an interesting video.

I Will See Your UX And Raise You Being A Badass

The Bet:

The Raise:

my mind rebelled at the strain required and lobbied aggressively for distraction. This morning, by contrast, I was able to slip into this hard work with little friction, tolerate the strain for three consecutive hours, then come out on the other side feeling a sense of satisfaction.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Slinky vs Treadmill

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Case Of The Bar Code Bandit

Langenbach brought his own bar code stickers to the store, used them to cover up the real ones, and then purchased his plastic prey at enormous discounts...

Police in Mountain View, where many of the alleged thefts occurred at the Target store on Showers Drive, said that after obtaining a search warrant, they discovered a huge cache of Legos at Langenbach's large, $2 million San Carlos home, and eight Ziploc baggies containing dozens of bar code stickers in his car.

Future Nausea

Engineering is about finding excitement by figuring out how human behavior could change. Marketing is about finding money by making sure it doesn’t.

A good read, although it's basically just a rehash of Zero History, and doesn't seem to be aware of it.

He does reference Gibson, though, referring to his quote - "The future is here, it's just not evenly distributed" - which is often mis-quoted as "The future is here, it's just not evenly distributed yet."

This actually suggests a different, subtler reading of Gibson’s unevenly-distributed line.

It isn’t that what is patchily distributed today will become widespread tomorrow. The mainstream never ends up looking like the edge of today. Not even close. The mainstream seeks placidity while the edge seeks stimulation.

This is the whole reason it's important to get the quote right. Adding a "yet" to it changes the whole idea. The future is here, but it's not evenly distributed, and it never will be.

Sci-Fi Dream: Photoshop Mirrorshades

Had a great dream last night about sunglasses like Google glasses or the shades in Virtual Light. I put them on and they added unnecessary blur to everything, but not like Gaussian blur, much more like the Glow effect in Adobe After Effects. They also intensified various colors and semi-randomly re-colorized various objects. In terms of pure color and visual detail, I think it might be the most vivid dream I ever had.

I actually know exactly why and how this happened. I've been listening to hypnosis mp3s that include suggestions to have extremely vivid, pleasant dreams, and apparently my subconscious interpreted that very, very literally.

It occurred to me that using this dream as the foundation for a film or something would give me a terrific way to integrate really cool special effects without a very painful budget - which oddly reminded me that the first (and worst) screenplay I ever wrote, back when I was 19 or so, was based on this same idea. It was a Bourne-like amnesia thriller about a guy with cyborg eyes who didn't know where they had come from. This took place in a dystopia with near-universal surveillance, and our hero was being pursued by the big bad government, so the big clever moment in the screenplay came when a hacker created code to automatically delete images of our hero, the software virus equivalent of an invisibility cloak, and unleashed that virus into the global network -- at which moment, our hero discovered he had been plugged into the network all along, and discovered this because the hacker disappeared from his own vision. He became "blind" to both his own existence and his friend's.

It was a pretty neat story, actually, although it was also a mind-bogglingly awful screenplay. I take pride in having written that before the Web was a thing, as well as before either Virtual Light or Ghost In The Shell were written.

Anyway, if I ever make another hypnosis mp3, I'm going to make sure to include suggestions like "have vivid dreams" because it's basically a freebie and it's a lot of fun.

Monday, May 21, 2012

polyamory: Love All The Tests. All Of Them.

Polyamory loves all of your testing frameworks. It is a command-line tool that is able to run your test files regardless of the framework being used.

Twitter Basically Created Twitter Newspaper

I've been toying for years with the idea of creating a Twitter analogue for Hacker Newspaper. Twitter has already done it, although they've already done it in the same sense that Flipboard has, or the godawful, which is to say, not in the exact way I would do it at all. So I may still hack together my own version at some point, when I have time.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Power Of Habit

Highly recommended.

Why I Unfollowed And/Or Blocked You On Twitter

Recently I began unfollowing every hacker or tech news source which appeared in my feed.

I'd like to illustrate one of the reasons for this deliberate and very brute-force information diet hack. It basically comes down to time management.

At some point in recent history, this happened:

I was not there. In fact, during the particular moment pictured here, it's very likely that I was instead reading Hacker News and/or arguing with some fat dude somewhere on the Internet about some kind of computer bullshit. That represents a near-total failure of time management and life choices. I've prepared a diagram to clarify.

I want to qualify this statement, because there's a real problem with sexism in the programming world, but for me personally, a bunch of girls in brightly-colored bikinis wins out 100% over arguing with anonymous computer dudes on the internet, every single time, and not just because they're women in bikinis, but also because bright colors are easier to see than the grey-text-on-a-grey-background experience of Hacker News.

when I become emperor, anybody who makes a web site without reading robert bringhurst will be beheaded

Obviously, if you're a straight woman or a gay dude, you might want to replace "girls in bikinis" with "boys in bikinis." Hell, you can make it animals for all I care. Maybe what excites you is a rabbit fucking a chicken. Who am I to judge?

it's kind of disturbing how many different things you can find rabbits trying to have sex with on youtube, including guinea pigs, chickens, dogs, cats, people, teddy bears, and balloons.
Irrespective of the specifics, my point here should be clear. "XYZ in brightly-colored bikinis" wins for many different values of XYZ. And in some cases, you can take out the bikinis and the XYZ, and win on bright colors alone.

This much, of course, is obvious to anyone who likes to have fun. But anyone out there who's made a living as an actor or a musician (or even just tried) knows that if all you want is to have fun, making it a hobby is your smartest move. For every actor who becomes a star with their first audition, or claims to have become a star with their first audition (citation needed), there are hundreds who worked their asses off before becoming stars, and thousands who worked their asses off without ever becoming stars, but were thrilled just to become working actors -- and thousands more who never got anywhere. Music is pretty much the same thing.

When I purged my Twitter feed of tech content, a ton of music and acting content remained. This had a very interesting effect. Almost immediately, I found myself thinking of my own music and acting in more serious terms. There are tons of other hackers who make music, and there are tons of musicians who also write code, but it's different when all you hear from is people who do it for real. Doing it for fun, to relax, after a hard day's work, is different from working your ass off for years. As a guy who's done his fair share of working his ass off, I like reading tweets from other people who've done the same thing and really gotten somewhere as a result.

So I started following more actors and musicians. It's a peer pressure hack. Peer pressure is one of the most useful and powerful forces in human psychology. It's probably second only to habit and/or hypnosis. The most amazing thing about peer pressure is that few people ever discuss how incredibly handy it is. The majority of the discussion around peer pressure is idiotic handwringing about how teenagers should resist it. But peer pressure is so powerful that if you want to change who you are, all you really need to change is who you communicate with on a regular basis.

I want to change who I am. I always have and I probably always will, because you can always get better, and after you've changed yourself once, you look for ways to do it again. For instance, in 2009 I lost 82 pounds in six months. It was a profound transformation.

Unfortunately, I got that weight back a few years later, because I got bored and completely abandoned the healthy eating habits which drove the change, but it was still an awesome experience, and I'm definitely doing it again.

I experienced another transformation in that same time period. In 2008, I was so fundamentally disorganized that I considered it part of who I was and would always be. By 2010 I was organized as hell. That was also awesome.

I can think of several experiences like this. Some of them were awesome and all of them were interesting. A lot of people seem to think that being "a morning person" or "a night person" is some utterly fundamental element of who a person is -- the language itself conflates that particular behavior with identity -- but I switch back and forth every year or so. I once thought myself doomed to never understand math, but I got good at it. I was a guy who couldn't draw, and became a guy who could. I've been a nerd and I've been a party kid. I've gotten beautiful women to go on dates with me despite not even speaking the same language, and I've had people ask me if I was a real-life 40-year-old virgin.

papa was a rolling stone

Identity is much, much more malleable than most people imagine, which is what makes acting such an interesting art form. It can be about the essence of being, but it can also be about the bizarre permanency of personal illusions, and it can even be about both those things at the same time.

However, what acting is mostly about is drama. I have many times been agitated about hacker drama, but I'm not one of those people who say "I hate drama" all the time. Firstly, because everybody knows that people who say "I hate drama" all the time actually love drama, and live for it. Secondly, because I know I love drama. That's why I've been studying acting seriously since 2004 -- among professionals, with one of my coaches being a two-time Emmy winner. I freaking love drama.

But geek drama is to good acting like Cheetos are to organic strawberries. Is it really so surprising that people who mostly communicate over the Internet are constantly misunderstanding each other? It's tiresome, histrionic, and almost always very poorly reasoned. And another major benefit of unfollowing every hacker I had followed on Twitter was that all this low-quality junk food drama just disappeared.

Another noticeable effect, I'm sorry to say, was an immediate and massive decline in the number of negative tweets. If you're only following successful musicians and actors, you're going to see less negativity. The obvious reason is it's bad PR. But there's another, more important reason. These are people who work really hard to create a lifestyle that many many people dream of, but few ever get to experience. Spoiler alert: people who are incredibly fortunate are typically positive about stuff. (And if they're not, I unfollow them.)

Whether you term it with a metaphor of hygiene or nutrition, the information you consume affects your perspective. Habit-forming distractions are everywhere on the internet, but focus is more valuable than Twitter could ever be.

I delete all my Twitter apps probably at least once a month. But when I am reading Twitter, I'm very aggressive about controlling its peer pressure effects. I think this is a good decision.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Legos For Geek Girls

Saturday, May 5, 2012

A Philosophical Distinction Between Backbone And Ember

Backbone supplies a minimal set of highly effective tools which you can use in a variety of ways. Ember.js is a much larger framework.

Rails provides a very strong argument in favor of opinionated frameworks; but Rails came after more than a decade of web development, and many of its opinions evolved from streamlining extremely repetitive, extremely well-defined tasks. For instance, ActiveRecord the ORM was named after Active Record the design pattern, as defined in Martin Fowler's book on enterprise architecture.

DHH might seem like a lone genius, but he's actually extremely well-read. I picked up an obscure book on code generation (now out of print) after he recommended it on his blog and found half the ideas that make Rails great laid out in the first 20 pages.

In short, Rails was not just opinionated; its opinions were battle-tested, and not just by 37Signals, because many of these opinions came from a wide reading of some of the best literature which emerged after more than a decade of web development.

Ember.js has its own definition of Object, similar in some ways to Rails with its many extensions of core Ruby classes. Where Backbone is lightweight, Ember seems imposing.

Backbone's minimalism implies to me an opinion that single-page, complex JavaScript apps are an immature field and should be addressed with a minimal toolkit. I think people like to say Ember is more opinionated than Backbone, but I think it's important to consider this top-level opinion. Although I have no doubt at all that the Ember team is very well-read, like DHH, I believe that Ember is not streamlining battle-tested, proven techniques following after a decade of single-page, complex JS MVC apps.

Gmail debuted in 2004, so a decade of such experience will soon exist (for a relatively small number of groundbreaking engineers), but does not currently. Also, I don't think the literature has the same maturity as the literature DHH drew from when designing Rails, because it was only relatively recently that "real programmers" started taking JavaScript seriously at all.

In this regard, Backbone makes an interesting contrast to CoffeeScript. CoffeeScript clearly represents the same kind of opinionated process which shaped Rails -- picking and choosing only the best ideas, streamlining common tasks, etc. I think this is actually excellent judgement on the part of Jeremy Ashkenas, who created both CoffeeScript and Backbone. There are times when you streamline processes based on existing knowledge, and there are times when you use lightweight, highly flexible tools.

A good guideline is to only streamline processes based on existing knowledge when such knowledge exists. I strongly suspect Ember of skipping a crucial step here. However, to be fair, I have not played with Ember, and do not plan to until late May, when I'll be at Fluent Conf, and I'll have a chance to catch some sessions on Ember before jumping in. I could be surprised, and I certainly hope to be surprised.

Friday, May 4, 2012